Although this is usually thought of as a new tea (we started seeing this 7-8 years ago), it is more accurate to say that the tea was rediscovered. An Ji is the name of the county in Zhejiang from which the tea originates, and this green tea grew popular in the domestic market very quickly. “Bai” means white, which has created some confusion about the nature of the tea; it is not a white tea but a green one. The “white” refers to the unique feature of the leaves that become paler when infused. “Pian” means a piece or slice of something.
The critical temperature is 20 degrees (C) for plucking the tea; when the weather warms to above 20 degrees, the leaves remain green, whereas earlier plucking will show a lightening, to a shade of pale celadon, after steeping. Therefore, the window for plucking and processing is small. Catching the right time for harvesting and processing the tea is crucial and may be unpredictable; if made at less than optimum conditions, the unique features of the tea will not appear.
Plucking begins in the morning after the dew has evaporated, followed by indoor withering that will last between 5 to 8 hours. Budsets of one bud with two leaves are picked. One worker can pick about 4 kgs in a day’s work, and 5 kgs of the raw material yields 1 kg of the finished tea.
A tea master experienced in working with this tea is hired for the special processing; his wages for a period of less than two weeks can be quite high. De-enzyming is done by hand, using gentle heat as high temperatures will scorch the leaves. Rolling is done by machine. This is not the usual rotating method of rolling but a back-and-forth sweeping motion is used, so that very little pressure is exerted on the leaves. The brushing motion produces the finished appearance of the An Ji Bai Pian green tea.
After spring, the bushes are pruned back severely, to only about 30 cm (full grown bush measures about a meter in height). This is done to coax more robust new growth in the following year.
Brewing suggestion: water at 90 degrees; fill mug or pot about 1/3 full first, wait a bit, then pour in more water.
As a footnote, An Ji Black tea has also made its appearance, not surprising given the trendiness of Black teas now in China. This is a tricky tea to make because at the low ambient temperature that suits this tea, oxidation is difficult to control, and humidity should be high, which often does not go hand in hand with cool temperatures. An Ji Black is sweet and the infused leaves are evidence of the high quality raw material.